Situational American Morality

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A new study from the University of Illinois at Chicago has implications for both politicians and advertisers — and should scare anyone who cares about ethics.

The study involved having consumers

. . . read a political monologue about federal funding for Planned Parenthood that they believed was previously aired over public radio.

Respondents were randomly assigned one of two feedback conditions where upon completion they were informed that the monologue they had just read was either true or false.

Consumers were then asked whether they felt the monologue was justified. The bottom line:

  1. If the consumer agreed with the monologue, they were less critical of it, regardless of whether they were told it was true or false.
  2. If the consumer disagreed with the monologue, they were more critical of it regardless of whether they were told it was true or false.

In other words, in today’s America, it doesn’t matter if someone is telling the truth or lying as long as the consumer agrees with what they are saying. Functionally, that’s a blank check for a politician or advertiser to say anything as long as it includes something the consumer wants to hear.

Unfortunately, this “culture of lying” has consequences. It affects where people want to live, work and spend their money.

As an Airbnb host, we’ve been getting an earful from foreign travelers who don’t want to live here as well as workers who are asking for transfer back to their home countries. We have a doctor who views the level of medical errors in the US as unacceptable and disgusting. We have the Irani who says that, if she becomes ill, she will return to Iran for treatment rather than seek treatment in the US. We have a mother from Europe who is leaving so her daughter won’t become “Americanized”. We have the black teacher who grew up in the US and now works in Saudi Arabia, and says that her quality of life is better there than it ever was in the US.

We have the realtor from Kansas who lives in an American enclave near Mexico City and has seen a 41% increase in sales to Americans moving south this year. Mexico claims that it has 2 million Yanquis living there, most undocumented immigrants. South Korea has close to 1 million Yankee civilians; there are other large pockets in UK, Saudi Arabia, Costa Rica, Australia and other countries. The US Government itself is mum on the number of Americans leaving the country. (All of these numbers exclude military and government personnel stationed outside the US.)

A primary complaint among expats is that they want to escape what the US political culture has become. That brings us back to our topic — the moral acceptability of lying.

For some of us, lying remains unacceptable regardless of the excuse.


Sources:

  1. Allison B. Mueller, Linda J. Skitka. Liars, Damned Liars, and Zealots. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2017; 194855061772027 DOI: 10.1177/1948550617720272
  2. University of Illinois at Chicago. “We tolerate political lies for shared views, study suggests.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 August 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170803145640.htm>

Chipping Humans

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To paraphrase Franklin, the person who would sacrifice liberty for safety will have neither.

We put microchips in pets so we can locate them. We can attach chips to keys so we ben_franklinknow where they are.

Now a company in Wisconsin is microchipping employees.

At this point, the employees are volunteers and the benefits for doing this  include:

  • Ease of accessing computers,
  • Ease of access to secure areas, and
  • Making purchases and vending machines using the chips.

The drawbacks?

  • The employer can know where the  employee is 24×7. Spend too long at lunch? The company will know. Privacy? Forgetaboutit.
  • The technology represents another level of electronic radiation exposure, and we don’t know about the long term effects of that.

The chips are tiny and can be injected under the skin with a syringe developed by a Swedish firm.

Obviously, the manufacturer wants to see this technology in widespread use.

“Eventually, this technology will become standardized allowing you to use this as your passport, public transit, all purchasing opportunities,” and more . . . . (2)

It’s easy to see where this is going. We can expect a push to implant chips in children, hospital patients and the elderly. That would make kidnapping obsolete and reduce medical errors. It also would make it easy to locate lost hikers and wandering dementia victims. However, it would also mean that with two generations, virtually the entire population would be chipped. Go to a political rally or demonstration? People will know where you are. Criminals will be able to know when a home is empty or when someone is visiting a bank or ATM. Of course, the police will be able to identify and locate the person who robs you.

Further, chips aren’t secure. Any technology can be reversed engineered — meaning that you could create a chip with someone else’s code and use it in a crime.

How do you feel about being chipped?


Sources:

  1. Megan Trimble, “Wisconsin tech company to implant microchips in employees,” USNews, 24 July 2017. https://www.aol.com/article/finance/2017/07/24/wisconsin-tech-company-to-implant-microchips-in-employees/23045620/?brand=finance&ncid=txtlnkusaolp00002412
  2. Angela Moscaritolo, “Wisconsin Company to Microchip Employees,” CNET, 24 July 2017. https://www.pcmag.com/news/355140/wisconsin-company-to-microchip-employees?utm_source=email&utm_campaign=dailynews&utm_medium=title

 

Internet Insecurity Revisited

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Your applications encrypt your data.  You’re protected, right?ben_franklin

Wrong.

There are three things you need to know about the latest round of papers made public by Wikileaks:

  • The CIA (in some cases in partnership with UK’s MI5) developed ways to hack device operating systems. The devices include all types of computers and cell phones, networked TVs, car onboard systems — basically everything anyone uses that’s connected to the Internet. The operating systems affected are Windows, Android and Apple.
  • The hack allows the user to read data as it is entered (typed or oral), before it is encrypted.  Everything.
  • The hack allows users to control devices and use them for spying on device owners.
  • The CIA may have LOST CONTROL of these hacks, meaning that they are out in the public domain where others can use them.

The CIA might not care about you, but are there others who might want your bank account?

The revelations have shocked experts.

Still, the amount of smartphone vulnerabilities and exploits detailed in these documents was shocking even to experts. “It certainly seems that in the CIA toolkit there were more zero-day exploits” – an exploitable vulnerability in software not known to the manufacturer – “than we’d estimated,” Jason Healey, a director at the Atlantic Council think tank, told Wired Magazine. He added: “If the CIA has this many, we would expect the NSA to have several times more.”(3)

Early reports are that the documents published by Wikileaks appear authentic.  None of the companies involved have commented on the situation. Nor do there appear to be any patches immediately in the offing.  After all, none of the players is yet admitting that they have something to patch.

Some writers see a bright side in these revelations: the decision to hack operating systems means that data encryption tools work.  That may or may not be true.  We don’t know what is still to be revealed.

Security problems aren’t under control or going away.

“Anybody who thinks that the Manning and Snowden problems were one-offs is just dead wrong,’’ said Joel Brenner, former head of U.S. counterintelligence at the office of the Director of National Intelligence. “Ben Franklin said three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead. If secrets are shared on systems in which thousands of people have access to them, that may really not be a secret anymore. This problem is not going away, and it’s a condition of our existence.’’(4)

I’ve said that nothing on the Internet is private, but this takes that statement to an entirely new level.  Nothing you type or speak into an Internet connected device is private. 

Ben Franklin was indeed a very wise man.


Sources:

  1. Sharon Profis and Sean Hollister, “WikiLeaks and how the CIA sees your WhatsApp messages, explained,” CNet, 7 March 2017. https://www.cnet.com/how-to/wikileaks-cia-hack-phone-tv-router-vault-7-year-zero-weeping-angel/?ftag=CAD3c77551&bhid=25995825932822145966367556179766
  2. Jose Pagliery, “Wikileaks claims to reveal how CIA hacks TVs and phones all over the world,” CNN Tech, 7 March 2017. http://money.cnn.com/2017/03/07/technology/wikileaks-cia-hacking/
  3. Trevor Timm, “WikiLeaks says the CIA can use your TV to spy on you. But there’s good news,” The Guardian, 7 March 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/07/wikileaks-says-the-cia-can-use-your-tv-to-spy-on-you-but-theres-good-news
  4. Devlin Barrett, “FBI prepares for new hunt for WikiLeaks’ source,” The Washington Post, 7 March 2017.

A Quote for Our Times

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“Even more than what you think, how you think matters.  The stakes for understanding this could not be higher than they are today, because we are not just battling for what it means to be scientists. We are battling for what it means to be citizens.”

Atul Gawande, MD, in The New Yorker, June 2016. His essay about scientific thinking was delivered as a commencement speech at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.  (Also cited in Becker’s Hospital Review.)

Body cams

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ben_franklinBen Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Police body cams can save lives and lawsuits.  There’s remarkable evidence from field trials supporting that claim:

In 2006, police officers in the United Kingdom tested body cameras and found that the technology enhanced the collection of hard-to-refute evidence and resulted in fewer cases going to trial. In 2012, a similar field test took place with the Rialto, Calif., Police Department. The 12-month experiment randomly tested body cameras on officers during their shifts. The cops used cameras from Taser International, which were water resistant, captured video in full color and had a battery life of 12 hours. The test results were startling: When the cameras were turned on, use of force by officers dropped 60 percent and complaints against the police fell nearly 90 percent. [Newcombe]

635902870224132893-bodycamHowever, technology changes, and new technology raises new issues with these devices.

A new (and relatively shoddy) report from the Department of Justice confirms that some body cameras used by police have facial recognition technology as well as some ability to detect weapons on an individual.  There is no comment on the accuracy of either technology.  We know that police radar guns have a statistical measurement error, but what’s the equivalent for facial recognition?

That changes the interaction between police and civilians.

It makes perfect sense that an officer would want to know if an individual he is approaching is a known criminal or potentially dangerous.  Certainly, the officer would want to know if the civilian is armed. Heck, I’d like to know that.

If the camera can provide that information, it makes no sense that a body cam would ever be disabled on initial approach to a suspect.  In shootings where the body cam is reported to have been non-working, that becomes more suspicious.  What officer would want to go on patrol with a key piece of equipment out of service?

The body cam raises issues for civilians with permits to carry concealed weapons.  If the officer knows someone is armed, will they approach the civilian differently?  Treat the civilian more like a criminal?  Would that raise the risk of the civilian being shot?

Obviously, protestors lose their anonymity.  Any protestor — whether it’s a protest over a shooting, taxes, firing of a school teacher or flag burning — will be identifiable if in range of a body cam.  There will be an electronic record of those so identified.  How will that record be used?  There are no regulations on that today, as protest is in theory a public act.  Could you lose a job because you participated in a protest?

What controls are there on the use of body cams by private detectives and civilians, or their placement on drones?

If an officer leaves the scene of a domestic violence complaint without making an arrest or report, is there still an electronic record?  Could that record be accessed for use in any subsequent court actions?

Lot’s of questions with no answers as yet.


Sources